By Rich Kozlovich
In recent months the bed bug issue has reached headline proportions on the national scene. National television news networks have featured the story, magazines have highlighted the problem nationally and newspapers have focused on local infestations that seem to be out of control and growing. We, the pest control industry, have known this day was coming for some time, and in point of fact I know one old timer who ominously stated over ten years ago that bed bugs would be among the first vermin to reappear as a national plague.
As this national plague of bed bugs continues to grow I find that I am more and more surprised at the reactions of so many. Especially those in the bureaucracies, government and most importantly in pest control. I intend to explore all of the views from each group. I think you will find this examination interesting and frustrating.
My views however are somewhat straightforward. We need effective chemistry that is inexpensive, available to the public and easy to use if we are to rid the nation of this plague. That was the answer in 1946 and that will have to be the answer in 2010 or 2011 or 2102 or there will be no answer.
In April 2009 the EPA held a bed bug summit inviting people from all over the nation to try to work out some kind of solution to this problem. I couldn't help but chuckle and shake my head at the thought of those who are directly responsible for this plague of bedbugs now wanting to find a solution through this big public relations fest. What better way to deflect attention away from the real perpetrators of this mess, themselves. P.T. Barnum would have been truly impressed with this. At the end of it all they came up with these solutions which I outlined in an article, “Bedbug Summit: Activity As a Substitute For Accomplishment”.
There were 34 suggestions that would expand the bureaucracy at every level of government, expand training and licensure requirements and potentially mandate Integrated Pest Management. There were 15 for expanded public information and who should be doing it, 10 for grant money for the professional grant chasers, 5 that would shift the blame, and 9 that actual had some worth, however….. No one blamed EPA.”
At no time did they focus on the issue of effective chemistry that is inexpensive, available to the public. Of all the suggestions at this meeting there were only two that discussed the need for old chemistry that was no longer available.
Recently there was another bed bug “forum” called the Congressional Bedbug Forum, hosted by Reps. G.K. Butterfield, D-North Carolina, and Don Young, R-Alaska.at the capitol. What did they learn? “They are virtually unstoppable,” Dr. Michael Potter, a bedbug expert from the University of Kentucky, told an auditorium full of people concerned about the resurgent tiny bloodsucker.” Didn’t everyone there already know this?
I know Mike personally and he is one of the nation’s lead researchers, if not the leading researcher in bed bug control, and has been magnificent in his efforts to tell EPA, elected officials and bureaucrats, other researchers and anyone else that will listen that the real answer is effective chemistry. Mike was also very supportive of Ohio’s request for a section 18 exemption to use propoxur, which EPA turned down. Although the answer clearly was no they claimed at a conference in Columbus, Ohio that it didn’t necessarily mean no. Even the regulators in the room blasted them for that.
I don’t know where Congressman Butterfield stands on this issue now, but he introduced a bill on May 5th, 2009 called "Don't Let the Bed Bugs Bite Act of 2009". Our National Pest Management Association supported his bill claiming “that this “multi-faceted legislation provides critical resources to state and local officials to combat bed bug outbreaks in lodging facilities, residential housing and other settings.” They went on to say that “His legislation will grant state and local governments, in concert with the professional pest management industry, the necessary resources to more effectively and aggressively manage bed bug infestations.”
No doubt his intentions are good, but his solutions are inadequate. This bill would only foolishly waste fifty million dollars a year, create unnecessary regulations and layers of bureaucracy and do nothing to kill bed bugs, so I wrote an article called, The Butterfield Bill: Activity as a Substitute for Accomplishment, Part II.
The fact that government people believe in more bills and regulations, and more bureaucracy doesn’t surprise me…it disappoints me but doesn’t surprise me….that is who that are and what they do. What I find surprising…and disturbing… is the response from so many in the pest control industry. Bed bug work is probably the most profitable thing the pest control industry has ever experienced in my 30 years in the industry, and there are those who believe that things should continue just as they are.
Of those in pest control doing bed bug work we are divided into two camps; those who want things to stay the same because of the income it generates and those who believe they should fight for effective, inexpensive chemistry that is available to the public and simple to use because it is the right thing to do for society, even if that means returning old technology that works.
Do we think we are going backward in progress if we resort to old technology if that old technology works versus new technology that is failing the nation? When the new technology doesn’t work, or doesn’t work well, should we cling to it with a religious passion because it’s modern and new while refusing to use what works simply because it’s old?
Today we have a plethora of techniques and tools that can get rid of bed bugs. We have dry heat, steam heat, hand removal, traps, dusting techniques and procedures, vacuum cleaners designed for pest control and some chemistry that is only partially effective; and this is what makes the whole procedure partially effective. It is true that dry heat will kill everything in a building, but the expense is out of the reach of most Americans and there is no way of preventing a re-infestation with this program. We are in much the same situation as we were in thirty years ago with cockroaches. Not having the right chemistry was failing the nation, so we went back to the future and used boric acid. Bed bugs are spreading rapidly over the nation because current bed bug procedures aren't working for the nation, and for the same reason; we don’t have the right chemistry available.
Our job is more than a job. It is a mission. We are part of the public health service (whether they like to admit it or not) that stands between society and disaster. We are part of that thin gray line that stands on the wall and says, “no one will harm you on my watch”. If we are to succeed in our mission to protect society we must be effective in our treatments! If that means going back to old technology, then that is what we must do. It isn’t our job to be progressive, whatever that may mean, it our job to be effective!
There was a great old movie called “People Will Talk” with Cary Grant portraying a character called Dr. Noah Praetorius. He followed a relatively simple personal philosophy regarding medical treatments for the sick and suffering; “I’m in favor of using whatever makes sick people well”. One of his colleagues had him brought up before a faculty board to answer charges about his qualifications as a doctor. Dr. Praetorius answered one question my simply saying "I made sick people well”.
We need to properly define this issue. It isn’t about science, it isn’t about money; it’s about results, and it is a moral issue. By ridding properties of pest infestations we make sick buildings healthy, and I don’t care what we have to use to do it. I am prepared to use anything that makes sick buildings well! I am more than willing to go back to the future if that’s what’s necessary.
The answer to bed bugs in 1946 was effective, inexpensive chemistry that was available to everyone. If that isn’t the answer in 2010, 2011, 2012, etc. then there will be no answer.
See The American Dream Didn’t Include Bed Bugs. Part I: The Problem
See The American Dream Didn’t Include Bed Bugs. Part II: The Consequences